The succession crisis had lasted for nearly four months without any resolution between York and Beaufort with the only battles occurring between their supporters. But on 10 December 1453 one of the contenders finally took the field, the Duke of York along with Edward, the Earl of March, and Edmund, Earl of Rutland, led a force from Tewkesbury of 12,500 strong supported by Norfolk and Bourchier. The Yorkist army headed south towards Bradford-on-Avon where Ormond was maneuvering his nearly 3,000 strong force opposite Devon’s comparable force in southern Gloucester. On 13 December, Devon joined with York in northern Wiltshire and the nearly 15,000 strong forced headed to Swindon.
On 14 December, the Earl of Ormond came upon a column of the Yorkist army outside of Swindon and attacked it believing it to be just Devon’s force only to found himself facing a host that vastly outnumber his own. The battle was over in 90 minutes and those among Ormond’s force not dead either fled back to their homes or were captured. The Battle of Swindon gave York a victory, but considering that he almost outnumbered the Beaufort supporters nearly 5-to-1, it wasn’t a major one. However, Yorkist propaganda went into effect and the news was spread that the styled Richard III defeated a supporter of the usurper Somerset but graciously forgave the commoners and sent them home. After the battle, York presented his son Edward to the contingent of Cornish soldiers that Devon had recruited. Edward was then proclaimed the Duke of Cornwall, a title usually assumed by the king’s eldest son, and put him in command of the soldiers, if only nominally.
After Swindon, Ormond escaped to Southampton where he boarded a ship that took him to his estates in Ireland. The Duke of York with his eldest son followed with about 5000 men after Ormond but arrived too late to capture him. The two then started along the coast securing the port cities for the Yorkist cause, but didn’t seem to be heading towards London, which seemed odd. But a near 10,000 man army nominally led by Edmund, but with the Norfolk and Devon in actual command, headed towards London. The split of the Yorkists seemed very strange, especially with York commanding the smaller force that wasn’t heading to London.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Somerset had set off from Barnet to St. Alban’s on 12 December then headed up towards Olney then Northampton with an army of around 10,000 men sporting badges and banners with a large red rose prominently displayed. Somerset’s strategy had been to lure York out of Tewkesbury; however when news reached him of the Battle of Swindon and then the split in the Yorkist army it made him pause in Northampton for several days. The Beaufort commanders were divided with some suggesting that they go after the force led by Norfolk and Devon while others thought they should gain control of the Midlands since York seemed to have northern and southern England virtually in his control, this plan would including capturing York’s lands in the west of England and in Wales. Somerset decided to embarrass York by raiding his land, even perhaps capturing his family, and proceeded towards Ludlow via Coventry. Upon his arrival at York’s seat at Ludlow, Somerset discovered that York’s wife, younger sons, and daughters weren’t there. It turned out that York had sent his family to the city of Gloucester where they could escape to safety if the advance of Beaufort forces made it necessary. After letting his army sack Ludlow, Somerset then headed northward towards Shrewsbury.